Program 285a: Italian Food Culture; The Perfect Tuscan Picnic

Release Date: 07-26-2014

On Air Description

In Italy, eating well is practically a sacrament. On this week’s Travel with Rick Steves, Italian food expert Fred Plotkin takes us wide-eyed visitors deeper into the culture of enjoying a good meal in Italy. And tour guide Jamie Blair Gould from Lucca helps listeners assemble the ingredients for the perfect Tuscan picnic, complete with a picture postcard view. 

Find out what makes every meal into an occasion, Italian-style, on the next Travel with Rick Steves.

Notes to Stations

This is a re-edit of a program which first aired May 5, 2012.


  • Fred Plotkin, author of "Italy for the Gourmet Traveler" (Kyle Books)
  • Jamie Blair Gould, tour guide based in Lucca, Italy
  • Closing essay from bicycle adventurer Willie Weir

Related Links

  • Fred Plotkin's website includes a link to the revised edition of Italy for the Gourmet Traveler.
  • The New York Times writes about the cooking schools in Lecce.
  • Fred was a guest blogger with a Q and A series for the New York Times
  • In the web extra, Fred recommends the Caffè Pedrocchi as a good caffè storico in Padova, and Zingerma's in Ann Arbor, Michigan as a domestic source for authentic traditional balsamic vinegar from Italy.
  • Papillon Select Tours is Jamie Blair Gould's gourmet tour company, based in Tuscany.
  • Jamie Blair Gould recommends the morning Mercato Centrale as one of the best places for fresh produce in Florence.
  • Peck is a major gastronomic Italian delicatessen in Milano.
  • Trionfale is one of the largest corner markets in Rome. 
  • Information about the Slow Food Movement, which started in Italy in 1986.
  • Bicycle adventurer Willie Weir's website includes a link to his latest book of travel essays, "Travels with Willie," and a blog about his recent advevntures.


  • "Recommend a tasty, healthy, five-course meal as a splurge during a first-time early-spring visit to Italy." (Jeff in Brunswick, Georgia)
  • Caller just returned from a cooking lesson in Florence.  Looking for ideas on additional cooking classes in Italy. (Jane in Cheboygan, Michigan)
  • Visiting Florence and Siena on first trip to Italy. "Recommend particular markets or merchants to visit to get the 'perfect picnic food'." Jamie suggests the indoor Central Market, which Rick adds is good for free samples. Caller also asks Jamie about balsamic vinegar. (Daphne in Kensington, Maryland)
  • "I love wines from Montalcino and Montepulciano. Recommend local wineries that offer tasting and tours for an upcoming Fall trip to Tuscany. Should they be scheduled in advance?" (Holly in Cheyenne, Wyoming)
  • "After packing the basket with the perfect Tuscan flavors, where is the best place to sit with a view of the authentic countryside of Tuscany -- the vineyards, the quaint villages and the sunset?" (Michelle in Franklin, Kentucky)
  • Asks about vegetarian picnic options from an Italian market and the "slow food" movement in Italy. (Stacy in Rome, Italy)
  • Caller describes "perfect" settings for picnicking in Tuscany. "I think Cortona or San Gimignano are two of the best places to have that picnic. While visiting we grabbed some fresh baguette bread, prosciutto, and I believe it was asiago cheese, with some Chianti wine. Perfecto!!" (Kimberly in Clovis, New Mexico)

In Web Extra:

  • Just returned from a cooking lesson in Florence. “Where can I buy the delicious thick and syrupy balsamic vinegar here in the States?”  (Jane in Cheboygan, Michigan)
  • What do you think is the best region of Italy from a gourmet's perspective and why?  (Diane in Santa Fe, New Mexico)

Incidental Music

  • I Solisti Veneti, "'Andante' from 'Concerto for Two Mandolins and Viola' (Giuliani)," Relax with the Classics vol. 4 (collection)  / LIND Institute
  • Aria, "Un Bel Di," Aria, vol. 1 / Cafe del Mar Music
  • Orchestre National de l’Opéra de Lyon, Evelino Pidò cond., “‘Una furtiva lagrima’ from ‘L’elisir d’amore’ (Donizetti),” The #1 Opera Album (collection) / Decca
  • * The Philharmonia, John Wallace, trumpet, “Concerto in D (Torelli),” Vivaldi Concerti and Baroque Trumpet Music / Nimbus
  • National Philharmonic Orchestra, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, cond., “‘Intermezzo’ from ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ (Mascagni),” The #1 Opera Album (collection) / Decca
  • Antonio Infantino e Tarantolati de Tricarico, “Pezca Tarantella,” Amiata’s Secret World, vol. 2 (collection) / Amiata Records   (Italy)
  • London Sinfionetta and Chorus, John McGlinn, cond., with Justin Lavender, “‘Come to Florence (Civic Story)’ from ‘The Firebrand of Florence’ (Kurt Weill-Ira Gershwin),” Kurt Weill on Broadway / EMI Classics
  • Simone Lo Porto, "Il Girasole," Italia Musical Odyssey (collection) / Putumayo
  • Christophe Beck, “Olive Harvest,” Under the Tuscan Sun (soundtrack) / Hollywood Records
  • * Cincinnati Pops, Erich Kunzel, cond., “ ‘Di Provenza il mar, il suol’ from ‘La Traviata’  (Verdi),” Bella Tuscany (collection) / Telarc
  • I Giullari di Piazza, “Canto d’Afrodite,” Earth Sun & Moon / Lyrichord
  • Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra, Marco Boni, cond., “Souvenir de Florence in D minor, Op. 70-IV - Allegro vivace (Tchaikovsky),”  Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings;  Souvenir de Florence /  PentaTone
  • Lusanne Chamber Orchestra, Jesús López-Cobos, cond., “‘Italiana’ from ‘Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 3’ (Respighi),” Bella Tuscany (collection) / Telarc
  • Giorgio Conte, “Cannelloni,” Italian Café (collection) / Putumayo
  • Kiran Ahluwalia, “Kina Nere (The Unsung Ghazal),” Kiran Ahluwalia /  IndieBlu Music

Dated References

  • At 7:52, Fred Plotkin notes, tongue partially in cheek, that Italy's problems have been in the news "for the last two thousand years." 
  • In Jeff’s call, starting at 11:50, he says he’s hoping to make his first trip to northern Italy “next year,” in “early spring.”  Fred recommends the cuisine of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region to sample spring herbs and in-season fish. 
  • Fred recommends Lecce in the southern Puglia region to caller Jane at 14:48 as an emerging center for cooking schools and fresh seafood.   She notes she took a cooking class in Florence "last month." 
  • In the beginning of segment B at 20:30, Rick and Jamie remark that costs are high for travel to and within Europe, so that picnics are an affordable option for meals.
  • Jamie notes that Tuscany and its food "is particularly in vogue at the moment" at 24:01.  He mentions the Tuscany supermarket chain S Longo at 27:58 as a good option for prepared foods, and the Central Market in the San Lorenzo district of Florence at 32:30.  
  • Caller Daphne, at 36:10, asks about transporting a bottle of olive oil or vinegar, given the restriction on liquids in airline carry-on luggage.
  • Caller Holly at 41:25 says she’s planning a fall trip to the Tuscan hill towns.
  • Rick says at 45:00 that there is a popular wine shop for sampling different local varieties next to the Central Market in Florence. 
  • Rick and Jamie agree that on top of the wall around Lucca, anywhere near Volterra, and the Oltrarno side of Florence are good scenic locations for a picnic.
  • At 48:18, caller Stacy reports the weather "is not too bad for this time of year" right now in Rome.
  • From 49:40, Jamie and Rick discuss “slow food” stickers that are displayed in the window of some restaurants and food shops. 
  • Rick describes a "sfuso / loose wine” shop near Orvieto at 54:04 that looked like a gas station.

Program Extras

More with Fred Plotkin - Fred Plotkin tells Rick about his favorite historic café in Italy, chats further with callers about traditional balsamic vinegar, and names his favorite regions for eating in Italy. (runs 5:17)